PAWTUCKET – School Committee member Kim Grant says she’s not interested in going back and forth with Supt. Cheryl McWilliams about specific items that may or not be meeting the standards for disabled students in city schools.

Instead, said Grant this week, school officials should be trusting the staff in the schools that the equipment isn’t up to standard and doing what they can to protect them and the students they care for.

“I think as a district we should own it, we should own what the situation is,” she said.

Grant was reacting to McWilliams stating for a story last week that appropriate items are indeed in place, statements that contradicted Grant’s evaluation.

McWilliams is an educator, Grant said, “but I think she missed quite a few things,” and “I’m disappointed in her comments.”

When she visited Tolman High School, said Grant, the physical therapy room did not have a lift in it. When she asked one of the therapists where the lift was, the therapist pointed to herself. That employee has been lifting 150-pound young adults on her own, she said, putting herself and the students at risk of injury.

Grant, the mother of a special needs student who attends school in Providence, said her biggest concern is that there’s a lot more to educating students than there once was, and Pawtucket isn’t meeting today’s standard.

“There’s a bigger picture that’s not being looked at, and that’s very concerning,” she said.

In a story two weeks ago, Grant called it an embarrassment that Tolman was lacking basic equipment for special needs students, including lifts, privacy shields and changing tables, even after previous upgrades were made to the school.

At the Dec. 14 meeting, School Committee members, at Grant’s request, approved up to $100,000 to be spent from capital reserves to address immediate needs at Tolman, with additional moves to make upgrades across the district in the new year.

McWilliams, in a response letter to Grebien last week, assured the mayor that health and safety of students and staff are a top priority, and that a review found special education classrooms equipped with the appropriate equipment based on student need, including a Hoyer lift in the classroom for severe-profound/medically fragile students, as well as a treatment table with safety rails and a privacy curtain.

The superintendent said assessments are also ongoing to review the safety and standard of services provided by the district. Though no current immediate concerns had been identified as of last week, she said, recommendations to improve and enhance services will be reviewed and acted upon as appropriate.

She and members of her team did a walk-through of Tolman with facilities experts to determine the viability of an enhanced upgrade to the pre-existing ADA compliant bathrooms to meet the needs of students. Additionally, the special educators are conducting a materials and equipment inventory to determine future enhancements and upgrades to services.

The School Committee was set to meet to elect officers on Tuesday, Jan. 4, but ADA upgrades were not on the agenda for discussion.

Grant said this week that she remains committed to being there for students and giving them all they need. Special needs students are usually the last ones to get what they need, but they deserve better equipment and the right type of supplies, she said.

Grant said she’s hoping the top focus remains on keeping students and staff safe. Those evaluating the situation should consider whether they, if they had a special needs student, would want them to be without the equipment they need, and the answer would be no.

“We need to give these students better,” she said.

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